I dread success. To have succeeded is to have finished one’s business on earth, like the male spider, who is killed by the female the moment he has succeeded in his courtship. I like a state of continual becoming, with a goal in front and not behind.
George Bernard Shaw
Why should we set goals? Goals help us be who we want to be. Instead of waiting for something good to happen to us, we make something good happen. A common analogy used when discussing goals is a person setting in a car with it running with an ideal destination in mind, but no idea of how to get there. The person has all the elements necessary to reach the destination, but one: the path or route.
Recently, I worked with a group of mid-level of employees in a large organization. The organization had grown rapidly before the economic downturn and created numerous promotional opportunities for its employees. Approximately 40 percent of the attendees had been promoted in the last five years. As the economy slowed, there was less expansion in the organization and much less employee mobility as people sought to hang on to their jobs. The combination of less new opportunities inside the organization and fewer people leaving for better jobs outside the organization slowed career progression.
As I discussed with the group their concerns, most indicated that they felt that the organization had betrayed them since the downturn. I asked if promotions still occurred and the answer was “sometimes in limited cases.” Once asked how people prepare for advancement, the attendees revealed that most people did very little to be promoted in the past. Literally, the rapid growth had “swept” employees into new positions out of a need to address new needs. When I asked if that approach works when there are less opportunities and more competition, several attendees pointed out that it seems less likely.
In our careers, it is critical that we develop a roadmap to take us where we want to go. The need for setting goals becomes more critical as we move up through an organization where there are less positions overall and more competition. As we plan for our professional futures, there are several things to keep in mind:
- Commit to them
- Develop a path
- Address the incremental
Commit to Them
When I was a child my father would always remind us to write down our new year resolutions. He assured us that if we wrote them down, we would increase our chances of not just remembering what we want to accomplish, but actually being successful. Franklin Covey built on this same idea when he integrated goal lists into his popular planner tool. Employers throughout the country sent hundreds of thousands employees to learn how to set goals by documenting them and then making daily progress toward meeting them. As you identify your most important goals, you should list them so you can revisit them and refer to them as you make your day to day decisions.
Develop a Path
Once a goal is identified, the method or plan for accomplishment should be developed. Similar to the driving analogy, it is one thing to know where you are and where you want to go, but how to get there determines if you arrive at your destination. How many times have you looked for a place you wanted to visit to only find that you are driving in circles? For each goal, a plan significantly increases the chances of success. Take the time to list out the steps needed to reach your goals.
Some Goals are Incremental
Most of us think in terms of big goals with big outcomes. We want to change who we are, what we do, or where we are going. In many cases, we need to have stepping stones or intermediate goals that help us end up where we want in the end. I speak with employees regularly that indicate that being a leader or “the boss” in their organization is their ultimate goal. In our discussions, most identify stops along the way that increases their chance of becoming a leader, but rarely indicate they are using these intermediate steps in their planning. The intermediate steps as a precursor to the ultimate goal possess less perceived importance and receives less attention. However, failure to reach these middle goals almost always negates the chance of reaching the ultimate goal. Plan for your goals by setting intermediate goals that help you reach your objective.